July 11, 2011

Next Gen Farmers: The Martino Sisters

sites/default/files/vivian_belle_large.jpgFor Belle (20) and Vivian (22) Martino (of the eponymous Bella Viva Orchards), summertime can feel like one big stone-fruit-slinging hustle. But it’s not like they aren’t used to it.

Ever since they were little, whenever they were out of school, the girls would wash boxes and cut fruit for drying on their father’s farm; they’d also help out at the market. “First we handed out bags to customers. Then, when we were 9 or 10 we could help out with change,” says Vivian.

These days, the sisters are both in college during the year (Belle is studying accounting and Vivian starts law school this fall), but summer still finds them at the Ferry Plaza on Tuesdays and Saturdays selling fresh peaches, cherries, nectarines, and a wide array of dried fruit. And of course, the work extends beyond Tuesdays and Saturdays.

“It’s very stressful,” says Vivian. The girls work alongside other Bella Viva employees to get everything picked, packed, and loaded, and they leave around 4 am to get there on time. Bringing enough to last through the day without bringing too much is always a challenge. When Vivian started doing the market four or five years ago, she would help her father, Victor Martino, load the truck every day before the market. “He would just know; somehow he would just know and it would be perfect every day.” It’s taken years of trial and error and a lot of studying the weather, but she’s gotten a feel for just how many peaches will sell on a given day.  “Like this Tuesday,” she says. “I knew to bring a lighter load because it was the day after the 4th of July.”

A Farm Education

sites/default/files/belle-viva_girls_children.jpgVivian says she can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up without constant access to the outdoors. She and Belle would play in the orchards, ride their bikes on streets that rarely saw cars, and let their imaginations run wild. And because they were in the Central Valley, all their friends were from farm or dairy families as well. “That was what we knew,” she says. “We didn’t know there was anything different until we got older.”

There was fun to be had, but, Vivian says, the work was just as important to their parents. “They wanted us to know how to be good workers, how to understand the value of a dollar, and have good work ethics.” Supervising other Bella Viva employees, she adds, has given her and Belle more critical decision-making skills than most people their age. And the work ethic stuck: “Anything my sister or I do, whether it’s school or anything else…I’m trying to find a better way to say it, but basically we just kick ass until it’s done.”

Jamming

Fresh, ripe fruit traditionally has a high margin of loss, and despite the fact that Bella Viva dries a great deal of what they grow, they’ve also devised a smart way to move a large quantity of fresh fruit at the peak of the season. For the last two years the Martinos have advertised a special canning day in August – when flats of peaches are half off.

Vivian and Belle usually also tend to wait to do their own canning (with an aunt who’s an expert) until that time of year because, Vivian says, the peach variety (Angelus) is perfect for jam-making.

Last year, the girls sold 500 pounds of fruit to enthusiastic Bay Area canners hoping to capture the taste of summer for the cold and dreary months. It’s a busy, exciting day at the market.  “I’ve already had so many people come and ask about it this year,” says Vivian. “It’s my favorite day of the summer.”

The year, Bella Viva’s canning sale will take place on August 13. You might want to get to the market early to get a flat.

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its educational programs. Learn More »